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SAUK CENTRE, Minn. -- The vets, some yawning, others clutching packs of cigarettes, trickle into a sun-splashed room for morning meditation. Some survived war long ago, others have fresh memories of combat.
All have struggled. For some, its been alcohol or pills. For others, its post-traumatic stress disorder. Young or old, these vets have similar stories: Substance abuse. Failed marriages. Legal troubles.
Do not feel bad about your weaknesses, one vet reads to the others. And then they file out -- some to jobs in town, some to the barn to feed the horses, some for a smoke on the porch or to the solitude of small, dorm-like rooms.
So begins another day for a special fraternity, residents of the Eagles Healing Nest, the labor of love of a woman who is the daughter, wife and mother of military men. Down the winding road, past the squawking chickens and statues of soldiers decorating the lawn, 47 vets whove stumbled in life are trying to regain their footing. The goal is to mend -- and go home.
Behind every door here, theres a story.
Dan Klutenkamper has been haunted by survivors guilt and feelings of hopelessness after three Army tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. He shares his room with his loyal companion, Odie, a rambunctious yellow Lab -- the first living thing I cared about since Afghanistan.
Keith Castle, a former Navy man still harboring ugly memories of Vietnam a half-century ago, is hoping to stay sober and deal with anger that has tormented him for decades.
Rick Sorquist, an Air Force vet and medic in Afghanistan, is looking for a new start after the collapse of his marriage and end of his military career led him back to the bottle.
For now, they and dozens more -- veterans of war and peacetime -- share their meals, their lives and their longing for better days. For some, this is a place of last resort, the one door open to them. At the Nest, they can stay as long as they want and return if they want.
The men, who range from their 20s to their 70s, share more than invisible wounds and war stories.
They have each other to turn to at a place and at a pace with people who understand what theyve endured, says Melony Butler, the retreats 47-year-old founder. They hold each other accountable just like they did on the battlefield. This is their comfort zone.
Butler has been around vets all her life.
Her stepfather, Charles Pounds, never rebounded from the darkness of his days in Vietnam. He was hospitalized on and off for psychiatric problems. On Fathers Day in 1996, he killed himself.
About a decade later, while working as a volunteer at a family readiness program for the Minnesota National Guard, Butler saw a new generation of soldiers coming home in turmoil. At the time, her husband, Blaine, then a Guardsman, was being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Three of her four sons also were in the Guard. One served in Afghanistan.
But when another son returned from Iraq, the wars toll hit home.
He called me in the middle of the night and asked me to promise him to take care of his babies, she recalls. He begged me to die.
Her son got help, she says, and is now recovering slowly. But his plight got Melony Butler thinking: What if she opened a small boarding house for vets, a place where they could heal? She had no experience, but figured what she didnt know, shed learn.
The idea didnt seem entirely far-fetched. Her husband recalls that many years ago while working as a waitress, she brought a customer, a Vietnam vet, home for dinner. He stayed for two months.
Butler leased part of a closed state-run school in this quaint north-central Minnesota community, best known for its famous son, Sinclair Lewis, the Nobel Prize-winning author. And two years ago, with personal savings, a $5,000 donation from a banker, $1,200 from a small American Legion post and other contributions, the Eagles Healing Nest opened its doors on 124 acres of rolling farm fields.
Nathanial Mogensen was resident No. 1. A grueling Guard deployment to Iraq had left him consumed by anger and suicidal thoughts. I just pretty much hated everybody and I didnt want to have anything to do with the outside world, he says.
Frustrated by delays in securing appointments with his local Veterans Affairs office, unhappy with a PTSD counseling group hed been attending and aching after an argument with his wife, Mogensen took a buddys advice and moved into the just-opened retreat.
Every minute, he says, was a positive experience. Its kind of like when youre a kid and youre at summer camp and you forget about everything else. This was my summer camp.
This was no institutional setting. There were horses to ride, an open-door policy that allowed him to see his wife occasionally, and work at Camp Ripley, where he could socialize with his battle buddies. Now 31, Mogensen says he learned to be more patient.
If I ever get into a tight spot again, the Nest is the first place Im going to turn, he says. They seriously are like family to me.
Iraq veteran Tane Anderson spent two months at the retreat this spring and summer, following VA care for addiction to alcohol and pain killers and three years of mental health treatment. I was just a zombie, he says.
The retreats bucolic setting calmed my spirit, says Anderson, now 44 and retired from the Army. I could heal at my own pace. I had enough freedom where if I didnt discipline myself, I could have failed. I was free to fail on my own, but I was free to succeed on my own.
Anderson gradually started visiting his wife and two kids on weekends. I slowly built back that trust, he says, and my family decided I could come home and give it a shot.
More than 250 vets, from 19 to 89, have passed through the Nests doors. Theyve fought in conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq or served in peacetime. Some have been medal winners, others received dishonorable discharges. Some stay a few nights, others longer.
All are asked to pay $35 a day but no one is turned away. State funding is available for some men who cant afford to pay. Vets help with cooking, farm chores and odd jobs. The retreat also gets a big boost from Sauk Centre businesses: A grocery regularly donates food, a salon makes weekly visits offering free haircuts, a theater provides free movie passes.
The Nest is on a national veterans registry and is licensed as a boarding house -- the men occupy two dorm-like buildings and a third will open for 19 more vets this month. Outside volunteers visit regularly, including mental health and addiction counselors, a chiropractor and art and massage therapists. There also are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and Bible study.
Most vets still receive VA services, and have often come here after treatment at the agencys St. Cloud office. While the majority are Minnesota residents, vets have come from about 10 states, including Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin and Florida.
Dan Klutenkamper, who has lived at the Nest for more than a year, has become a familiar figure on the grounds in his flip-flops, camouflage shorts and baseball caps, walking his dog.
Though years have passed since he was at war, he hasnt forgotten the mortar attacks, the grenades, the roadside bombs -- and the constant fear of death. In one three-week period in Afghanistan, he says, his outpost was attacked 56 times.
Klutenkamper, diagnosed with PTSD, turned to pot and booze back home, holing up in his parents basement for 19 months. He eventually landed at the retreat, which he calls a godsend. ... If it wasnt for this place, I know I would have been back on the bottle and I probably would have killed myself about a year ago.
But his fallen buddies remain on his mind as he ticks off the names of those who died as they were about to become fathers. Why them and not me? he says. I still ask that question.
What helps, he says, is the company of Vietnam vets and an attentive -- but not overbearing -- staff.
There are times when Im dealing with certain things and you take a step or two back, he says. People notice it. Theyll ask you how things are going and theyre -- Im not going to say prying -- but they help break you out of that funk. ... This place had made me realize, one, Im not alone and, two, I wasnt going crazy with everything that was going on in my head with survivors guilt.
He adds: Its us helping each other, for the most part. Thats the way it was in the infantry. Its the brotherhood again, which is nice.
The Nest, though, isnt for everyone. Some vets medical or psychological needs are too great.
It turned out to be the last stop for one Vietnam vet whod arrived last year, homeless after heart surgery. He died in July after mowing the lawn, resisting entreaties not to exert himself. His hearse was driven around the grounds for one final tour. Staff members bought a Captain America T-shirt for his burial -- hed always liked retro T-shirts.
In other instances, vets unable to stay sober have been asked to leave or departed on their own. One young Iraq war vet with a drinking problem was found dead months later in his home.
You can make choices, but you can fail as well, says Todd Westerbeck, a former Navy submariner and Butlers assistant.
Westerbeck, whod arrived with alcohol problems, graduated to staff and has been clean more than a year. Im not just helping these guys, he says. Theyre helping me stay sober.
Keith Castle, a silver-haired Vietnam vet in declining health -- he has asthma and takes 28 pills a day -- had been in and out of treatment for alcohol, anger and psychological problems for years before moving in this summer. He says he hasnt had a drink since.
My stress level went from the ceiling to the floor, the 67-year-old grandfather says in a raspy voice, clutching an inhaler.
Rick Sorquist, another recent arrival, wants to get back on track, too.
Hed reluctantly quit the Air Force, ending a 12-year career, to be with his four kids following a bitter divorce. It was the start of a downward spiral. Old drinking problems resurfaced. Sorquist ended up being treated for alcoholism about six times in the last eight years.
Hes leaning on the folks at the Nest to help until he finds his way.
Somebody told me a long time ago, If youre not strong enough to hold on to hope, give it to somebody else to hold it for you, he says. Thats what this place is doing for me.
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According to the Barclays Africa Prosper report, approximately four in 10 Batswana (42 percent) said they would invest or save if they found themselves with an extra $100 (P920) at the end of the month. The Botswana score is significantly lower than the Ghanaians (82 percent) and Kenyans (63 percent) who said they were more likely to invest additional funds.
While factors such as unattractive interest rates and lower disposable incomes could be influencing factors in the lower savings culture, the report shows that the Botswana percentage is also lower than the Africa average which stood at 49 percent, meaning about five in 10 would invest the extra funds.
However Botswana compares much favourably with its neighbours, South Africa where only 28 percent of the respondents said they are likely to invest while another 28 percent said they are likely to use the additional funds to pay off debt. The online survey, which was conducted in 11 African countries, was aimed at finding out what success means to people, and how their individual aspirations are transforming the African economy. Over 7,000 people were interviewed in the survey with 549 participants being Batswana.
Statistics show that though earnings in Botswana are better than other Sub-Saharan countries, the level of personal savings is still considerably low.
An October 2012 World Bank report highlighted that only one in six (16 percent) people in Botswana had made a savings in the past 12 months. But in a country like Mauritius, which has a similar standard of living as that in Botswana, the rate was as high as one in three people (31 percent).
The lower savings rates were also reflected in the Bank of Botswana financial statistics, which showed that as at July this year, banks held about P53 billion in deposits, only 22 percent (P10 billion) belonged to the household sector. This is a marked contrast from the 60 percent of loan and advances that households owed banks.
When presenting the findings of the report on Wednesday, Barclays Head of Marketing and Communications, Racheal Mushaike said 64 percent of respondents in Botswana had highlighted lack of finances as a major barrier to prosperity, but it was also the easiest aspect of their life to change.
Most respondents feel the lack of finances can be changed, it is therefore not seen as a permanent state but one that can be altered, she said.
Barclays Botswana managing director, Reinette Van Der Merwe, stated that since people work hard for the money, they would understandably want their money to work for them.
What is particularly encouraging is that when further questioned the youth of Africa would rather invest their money to fund further education than to spend it on flashy consumer goods, she said.
She further said Africans viewed investment, education and savings as the main drivers of prosperity, which could open the doors to economic growth.
It is also clear that Africas emerging youth represents the continent with an unprecedented opportunity to deepen our human capital and with the right tools, tomorrows decision makers can unlock Africas potential, said Van Der Merwe.
However, 50 percent of the respondents stated that lack of opportunities were an obstacle to their progress, while 25 percent said lack of financial advice hindered them from prospering.
The report also indicated that respondents viewed investments, education and savings, as the main routes to financial freedom.
The survey revealed that major obstacles to financial prosperity reported by respondents included lack of finance, with 50 percent indicating lack of opportunities to make more money, while 26.2 percent reported poor financial advice.
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Millennials are growing up: The oldest of the cohort are approaching their mid-30s, which often coincides with more adult financial responsibilities, including mortgage payments and family-related costs. They have more grown-up challenges, too, like paying off debtand saving for retirement and future college tuition payments for children.
The good news is that the financial services industry wants to help. Eager for younger customers' business, thefinancial industry has been busy analyzing millennials' moneychallenges and trying to figure out how they can best reach out to them. As a result, a handful of financial services companies recently released money tips for millennials. Here are five of the best ones:
Save like it's 2009. Savings rates tend to go up during recessions, which is why personal savings rates shot up in 2009. The fear of financial instability appears to motivate people to squirrel more money into the safety of bank accounts rather than squander it on new shoes or a new smartphone. Millennials could use some of that motivation, since many have yet to start padding their bank accounts or saving for retirement.
A 2014 Wells Fargo Millennial Study of 1,639 millennials found that 55 percent said they have already started saving for retirement, and those who haven't yet say they think they will begin at age 35. Women millennials were particularly behind the savings game, with millennial men having accumulated almost twice as much as their female peers.
Four out of 10 millennials in the survey said debt was their top concern, with about half reporting 50 percent ormore of their income goes toward paying off their debt. In addition, 56 percent said they are living paycheck to paycheck and simply don't have the money to start saving for retirement or other goals. (Financial advisors generally recommend saving between 10 and 20 percent of your income over your working years, with the goal of replacing 80 percent of your income during retirement.)
Karen Wimbish, director of retail retirement at Wells Fargo, urges millennials to get started with saving as soon as possible in order to benefit from compounding interest. Having more money in the bank, she says, can also provide a confidence boost when it comes to achieving long-term goals. She notes that many millennials are aware of the fact that they should start saving as soon as possible, but they still find it hard to do so.
Get over your fear of the market. Given that millennials came of age in the era of Bernie Madoff and the subprime mortgage crisis, it's no surprise that many studies suggest they don't trust the market and resist investing in it. The problem with that conservative approach is that it could hurt them in the long run, if they aren't investing their money aggressively enough to grow over time.
Confront loan stress. Student loans are a huge source of worry for millennials. Respondents in the Wells Fargo study cited it as one of the biggest drains on their income: Credit card debt claimed 16 percent of their paychecks, then mortgage debt with 15 percent and student loan debt with 12 percent. (Auto loans claimed 9 percent and medical debt took 5 percent.)
Chat about money on dates. OK, maybe not the first date, but USAA financial planners suggest talking about money, and credit histories in particular, with long-term mates. USAA urges millennials to ask their partners how much debt they have, as well as get an overview of assets before exchanging vows. The reason? A bad credit score can derail post-marriage plans, from buying a house to purchasing a new car.
Get a job, not a degree. Obtaining advanced degrees can make sense in a lot of situations, but USAA financial planners also warn against using school as a back-up option when the job market doesn't work out. Returning to school often means building up more debt, and if the degree isn't directly related to your future career, it might not pay off in the long run.
If you're a millennial (or the
parent of one), don't let all these financial burdens get you down too much.
Millennials might have a lot on their financial plates, but they also have a
lot of financial
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Millennials are looking beyond beach vacations and nights out when it comes to finding the best way to use their cash.
More of them are putting money away for retirement, according to a new analysis released last week by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. About 40,000 workers in their 20s and early 30s signed up for their employer's 401(k) plan for the first time during the first half of this year, the report found. That is up 55 percent from the same time last year and more than the 37 percent increase seen for all age groups.
"If you look at the millennials, they're actually by nature better savers," said Kevin Crain, managing director and relationship executive for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The bank analyzed data from its 401(k) business, which has $128.9 billion in assets and includes 2.5 million participants.
What's pushing millennials to be more responsible? It's not all due to strong will power. More companies are taking the work out of the saving process by automatically enrolling workers into savings plans and automatically boosting their saving rates by a certain percentage amount each year, the report found. As of June, 213 plans used both auto enrollment and auto escalation to help people save, up 19 percent from a year earlier.
However, millennials might deserve some credit for not opting out of the plans after being automatically signed up, Crain said. And some of the growth was due to choice: The number of people who signed up for automatic rate increases grew by 27 percent over the past year, the report said.
The higher saving rates might also be spurred by a feeling among millennials that they are on their own for retirement. Workers between the ages of 25 and 37 expect to receive 32 percent of their income in retirement from personal savings and investments, compared to 19 percent for baby boomers, according to a separate survey by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave. In contrast, millennials expect 12 percent of their retirement income to come from an employer-sponsored pension, compared to 19 percent for boomers.
Indeed, more employers are asking workers to carry the burden of saving for retirement. Many companies are freezing pension plans, even when the funds are over funded, as a way to reduce future liabilities and lower operating costs. As a result, the 401(k) has become a primary vehicle for retirement saving, yet many people are not saving enough. For recent college graduates in particular, goals of setting aside money for retirement are often trounced by more immediate needs like student loan payments.
Often, the biggest advantage younger workers have when it comes to retirement savings is time -- since money that is stashed away and invested can grow tax free for decades. But Crain points out that saving isn't enough. People who are too conservative with their investments when they're young may end up short in their later years, he said.